As I write more and more blog entries…it occurs to me that many of you reading these and other cancer related information may be thrown off from time to time with the technical terms that many of us use without thinking. One of the primary reasons I started writing this blog is that I hope to reach out to the scientific and non-scientific community. Scientists spend a huge amount of time hidden in their labs, reading highly technical journal articles, and then trying to publish highly specialized articles that are not reaching out to the majority of people out there. I hope to do that less and reach out to more…more often.
So here are some common terms that you will see when you read,view, or hear cancer information.
Cancer: A set of over 200 different disorders that arise from uncontrolled cell growth and usually form tumors
Blood cancer: A large number of highly different cancers that arise from uncontrolled cell growth of blood cells (such as T and B cells) that are circulating on the body and may or may not form solid tumors.
Metastasis: The term referrers to the state of cancer in which cells from a primary cancer have moved from its original location to that of another location. For example, a breast cancer tumor cell that has moved from the area of the breast to the bone. The newly targeted bone cancer is actually part of the breast cancer that has metastasized (either from the blood or from the lymph nodes). The metastatic cancer is usually much more difficult to treat than the original primary tumor.
Clinical Trials: A set of human trials used to measure safety or efficacy of a new drug against cancer or a new combination of drugs or an old drug being studied on a new disease. There are four types and they get more and more expensive as you go up. All drugs must go through all four of these and if they succeed at each step are likely to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Efficacy: The effectiveness of a drug or treatment for cancer. How well does it treat the disease. There are many ways to measure this and some of the terms that are used are: progression free survival (PS), overall survival (OS), Partial Response (PR) and others.
Cure: Oncologists’ definition: The clinical absence of the cancer in question for five (sometimes ten) years is often referred to as the cure rate. Pateints’ definition: The complete absence of the disease for life. This is difficult to achieve for many cancers and only a few can be said to permanently cured. success stories are mostly found in some childhood blood cancer and a few adult cancers.
Chemotherapy: Chemical agents that are used to target pathways in the cancer cells that are essential for its survival but often affect normal cells as well. For example, many chemotherapuetic agents target the proliferative capacity of the cancer cell and thus stop its division. However, other cells that divide quickly can also be affected such as hair follicles and gut epithelial cells (thus hair loss and diarrhea are common side effects).
Bone marrow transplant: A very complicated medical procedure where the bone marrow from a donor is removed and placed inside a sick patient (recipient) that has been treated with radiation to “kill” off his own bone marrow in hopes that the donors cells will replace the recipient. The objective is to either remove the cancer (if it is located in the bone marrow of the recipient) and replace it with healthy new bone marrow or to use the new bone marrow to fight off the cancer in the patient. This procedure is complex, has many side effects, and works only for some types of cancers.
That is a good start for now. Please do let me know if there other terms you have heard but don’t really understand of if you wish to have some clarification of any of the above definitions. Please do visit cancer made simple for more information and resources.
Thanks Dr. C